What follows is a brief summary of the Society for Mining and Metallurgical Engineers Washington DC section meeting on January 14 at which Donald W. Gentry, 1996 President and Trustee of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers delivered a presentation entitled "Major Issues Facing the U.S. Mining Sector." For additional information, contact John Dragonetti by e-mail or by phone at (703) 379-2480.
The views presented in this report are those of Dr. Gentry who identified the three predominant trends in the mining sector as internationalization, technological development, and intellectual infrastructure.
During the 1990s there has been a dramatic shift in the mining industry toward the international arena. The reasons are threefold: 1) to achieve specific corporate goals, 2) companies have been forced to follow the mineral discoveries in the international realm, and 3) as a quick fix for immediate problems.
In 1994 the total U.S. industry exploration budget was $2 billion. The largest portion was $544 million expended in Latin America, followed by activities in Australia, the United States, Canada and the Pacific Rim nations. During 1995 the U.S. dropped to fifth with Canada moving up to third. Both the U.S. and Canada disbursed more in Latin America than for domestic exploration, despite considerable uncertainty over political and land use issues. During that same year, the exploration budget for gold represented greater than 58% of the total. The greatest interest in Latin America was in Chile, followed by Peru and Brazil. The lack of interest in Argentina is a function of the unstable political environment.
Most of the new mining technology is being conducted overseas. The U.S. is doing very little, and that which is employed is being imported. The reasons the U.S. is falling behind are several. Most research is for the short term rather than the long term. There is no coordination among the various companies resulting in much duplication causing wasted time and dollars. There is need of a balanced approach with coordination of industry, the government, and the university system. However, with the demise of the Bureau of Mines, there is no government mining research agency. Universities are not conducting basic mining research. And industry has low interest in basic mining research and little concern in developing cooperative ventures. The exact reverse is true for most of the rest of the world, especially Australia.
Over the next 25 years, the U.S. mining industry will fall further behind for the following reasons. Few revolutionary developments are foreseen, conservative management will continue, advances in technology will only occur within present systems, improvements will focus on operations rather than research, and mining technology for the future will remain in the hands of industry.
The intellectual infrastructure is not being advanced. Mining engineering enrollments have dropped dramatically over the past two decades causing a decline in mining graduates, and a lack of entry level professionals. There is also a lost generation of professionals who should be in place to act as mentors, and to move into company management. Even those at the entry level are seeking a job and not a career. There is no loyalty in either direction - from industry toward its employees, or for employees toward the company. Mining professionals no longer remain with a company for their entire career. And there is no interest within the university system to produce mining professionals.
The picture painted for the future of the U.S. mining sector is a bleak one unless changes are made!
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated January 26, 1997